After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally murders his wife and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.
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Not an adaptation of beat writer William S. Burrough's novel but a mix of biography and an interpretation of his drug- induced writing processes combined with elements of his work in this paranoid fantasy about Bill Lee, a writer who accidentally shoots his wife, whose typewriter transforms into a cockroach and who becomes involved in a mysterious plot in North African port called Interzone. Wonderfully bizarre, not unlike Burrough's books. Written by
Keith Loh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The movie is packed with characters based on real people and events from the life of Burroughs. Like Bill Lee, William S. Burroughs was an exterminator and drug addict who accidentally shot his wife during a drunken game of "William Tell." Joan Lee is based on Joan Vollmer, Burroughs' wife. Hank and Martin, Bill's fellow writers, are Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs moved to a section of Tangier, Morocco, known as the "International Zone," hence "Interzone." Tom Frost is clearly based on Paul Bowles, and Kiki was in fact the name of a young man Burroughs had an affair with in Tangier, while writing "Naked Lunch." See more »
Films about writers and the creative process are not generally action-packed, but this unusual piece has plenty of incident. The action takes place largely inside the mind of "William Lee" (William S. Burroughs) whose first book "Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict" dealt with his struggle against heroin addiction. "The Naked Lunch", set in the early 1950s, could be described as telling how that book came to be written. Lee does it tough. After "drying out" he has a job as a pest exterminator, killing cockroaches with powder from a cannister. He discovers that his wife Joan, still an addict, is shooting up with the bug powder and having sex openly with two of his literary friends, Hank and Martin. He then manages to kill her accidentally with his pistol ("I guess it's about time for our William Tell routine"). He flees the country and washes up in "Interzone" (Tangier - then an "international" city).
He tries to write but suffers from frequent hallucinations. He imagines his typewriter is a giant speaking bug whose mission is to act as his "Interzone" spyforce controller. He becomes involved with another expatriate literary couple, Tom and Joan Frost, and imagines that Tom is trying to kill his wife. Naturally he seduces the wife. Then he discovers he has a taste for gay sex, very easily indulged in locally, where there is a gorgeous willing boy such as Kiki ready to slide off the nearest bar stool. There is competition though from various other slimy types, including a rich gay predatory Swiss expatriate, Yves.
Somehow, the book gets written, and Hank and Martin show up just as Lee bottoms out in psychotic despair. They help him piece it together and head off back to New York, leaving Lee to "Interzone" and his hallucinations.
It takes a bit of discipline to watch this film - never has the creative process looked quite so destructive of the writer. Yet the whole thing has a lightness of touch about it. Lee never quite goes right over the edge and is able to observe himself with a certain amount of ironic detachment. At the same time, it is clear that the death of his wife has affected him deeply, both in terms of loss and guilt. The typewriter bugs are a cute touch. Burroughs was the grandson of the founder of the Burroughs office machinery empire, the man who patented the first practical adding machine - the mechanical bug runs in the family it seems. Abusive psychiatry also gets a send up.
As Lee, Peter Weller has a face as impassive as a homicide cop almost regardless of the turmoil within (after all, he made the role of Robocop his own). But he is a "tough guy" on the point of melt-down. Judy Davis, looking just right, plays with plenty of conviction both Joans (who in Lee's fevered brain are the same person). Ian Holm is good as Tom, the nasty older writer who is quite happy to lend his wife for sexual purposes but woe betide the man who damages his precious Arabic typewriter. Julian Peters as Yves radiated menace but overall was a bit of a cardboard-cutout, not helped by his dress and appearance, which seemed to have come straight from "Brideshead Revisited" (Sebastian in Morocco).
David Cronenberg as a director has certainly got a reputation for weird films ("The Fly", "Crash") but this offering is relatively restrained It was something of a pity that "Interzone" was a studio set somewhere (Canada?) but this is low-budget stuff after all. Unlike the bugs in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", these ones have a story to tell, though it's a painful one. Like Hunter Thompson, Burroughs was a great prose writer and the film has plenty of good lines. No-one could view heroin addiction with equanimity after seeing this film, but there is no moralising. As bug agent Clark Nova put it in the film:
"Just remember this. All agents defect, and all resisters sell out. That's the sad truth, Bill. And a writer? A writer lives the sad truth like anyone else. The only difference is, he files a report on it."
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